Seeing Milena Bonilla’s “Stone Deaf” through Language

Milena Bonilla, Stone Deaf, 2009–2010. Graphite on paper and HD video

Verbal Description tours at the Jewish Museum bring our exhibitions to life for visitors who are blind or have low vision, using descriptive language and touch objects to convey the visual world. In conjunction with The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, an exhibition pairing contemporary works of art with each chapter of philosopher Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, the following verbal description closely examines a work by the artist Milena Bonilla:

Stone Deaf is an installation composed of two art objects created by the artist Milena Bonilla that are arranged in the corner of the gallery. The first object is a frame that holds a large rubbing created with graphite and paper that is 63 inches tall and 39.5 inches wide. This rubbing is positioned so that it seems to be casually propped up against the wall.

The other is a large monitor that is screening an HD [high definition] color video that is on a five-minute loop. This monitor is hung eye level with the viewer positioned catty-corner to the rubbing. The rubbing was created by placing the paper on top of Karl Marx’s original burial site in Highgate Cemetery in London. Once the paper was placed on top of the stone marker, which indicated Marx’s burial site, then the artist repeatedly rubbed the graphite to transfer the words of the stone marker onto the paper. The words say:

At this spot were formerly buried Jenny Von Westphalen wife of Karl Marx and Karl Marx.

Their remains were removed and reinterred on 23rd November 1954, at the place nearby where a monument was erected on 14th March 1956.

Some words on the rubbing are clearer than others and it is obvious that this stone marker has several cracks. The color of the rubbing is dark blacks in some areas and light silver in others.

The HD video that is catty-corner to the rubbing is a video of the stone marker that shows insects such as ants, wasps, and a snail crawling on the surface of the stone marker and along its cracks. The 5 minute loops cuts to various close up views of the stone marker which allow for the viewer to see more details such as the text on the surface. The HD video conveys the color of the area, which includes luscious greens from the weeds and grass that surround the stone marker as well as the dark browns and blacks of the stone that has weathered over the years.


To learn more about programs for visitors with disabilities at the Jewish Museum, visit TheJewishMuseum.org/Access. All programs are free.